Masara Minase – DramaQueen – 2006 – 1 volume
I’ve wanted this book for years. Since early 2007, when I picked up Lies & Kisses by Minase and loved it. It was Gerard & Jacques, by Fumi Yoshinaga, that got me thinking that BL might not all be awful (my early forays into the genre were horrifying), but it was Lies & Kisses that made me a fan. Empty Heart has always been exorbitantly expensive secondhand, and DramaQueen never got around to a reprint, but after four years of waiting for a used copy to show up at a reasonable price, I finally snagged one.
Alas, no book can live up to almost five years of expectations. I was disappointed, but that’s probably because I was waiting to have my socks knocked off. It’s an okay one-shot, but nothing special.
It breaks one of my rules (creepy teacher/student relationships are a big no-no for me), but like Lies & Kisses, it does so in a more tasteful way. Takumi is a very popular student at his all-boys high school, and he turns down confession after confession because he has feelings for someone: Jun, his older brother’s best friend. Takumi has loved Jun for years, but unfortunately, Jun has an unrequited crush on Takumi’s older brother, Ryuuta. Jun just became a teacher at Takumi’s high school, and Takumi takes advantage of the opportunity and his close resemblance to his brother to get close to Jun and exploit Jun’s feelings for his brother. But that only winds up hurting Takumi.
And blah blah blah. You know how these scenarios work out in these romance manga. Bonus points to Minase here since Ryuuta isn’t gay, nor does Jun confess. I don’t mind the teacher/student relationship here since Takumi is a pretty mature character, and also the two had a pre-existing relationship before Jun became a teacher. I’m not sure why my conscience is eased by these terrible reasons, but it is.
The romance between Jun and Takumi is mostly a sad one, and that was the reason for my disappointment. I tend to like really full-blown, serious romances. But here, Takumi hides his feelings and sleeps with Jun because “he wants to try sleeping with a man.” And at first, Jun takes Takumi’s advice and pretends he’s Ryuuta. Things get better, obviously, but there’s a lot of heartbreaking stuff in here.
One of the reasons I wanted this so badly was because Minase’s artwork is usually amazing. This is clearly an earlier work, or I haven’t seen Lies & Kisses in a long time, because Empty Heart just isn’t as good. One of the things I like best about her is that she has genuinely good-looking men, not just generic stereotypes. As the author of Lonely Egoist says, her drawings are smoking hot. I also find her art to be quite polished, in the little I’ve seen from her. The men are… slightly more generic in this one. Her artwork is also more rough and plain. It’s still better, and less boring, than a lot of other BL artwork out there.
Even though I thought this was disappointing, I would still love to see more by Masara Minase. We’ve only had this, Lies & Kisses, and the illustrations for the Lonely Egoist novel in English. I’m not sure why. Perhaps there’s not a whole lot of demand, or perhaps her work crosses lines somewhere. It also looks like she primarily illustrates BL novels, so maybe that’s another reason. Her publishers seem like they are primarily fair game (Gentosha, Tokuma, Frontier Works… some other small ones) so I’m hoping we’ll see more in the future.